On the 15th August 2010 I watched the Nagasaki Spirit Boat procession (精霊流し). This event takes place every August, for people to mourn family members who have died in the past year. Despite sounding a bit gloomy it is actually a very lively event with colourful floats, firecrackers, clamouring gongs and shouting!
We weren’t sure exactly where to find it so we asked at the tourist office and they helpfully marked the main locations on a map, and told us it would start at about 6pm, with the floats slowly making their way to the harbour. The below map shows roughly where it is. The red lines are the main routes, and the floats converge in the centre.
View Nagasaki Spirit Boat Procession 精霊流し in a larger map
We made our way to the area, and walked towards Shianbashi station. While walking we started hearing firecrackers. The decided to follow the explosions! Along the road were hundreds of exploded firecracker boxes.
By following the explosions we found our first float, being carried by a group of macho looking men. On the front of most of the floats were photographs of the loved ones whose lives were being remembered. The participants believe that the spirits of the deceased will be sent to Sukhavati (Land of Bliss).
The firecracker explosions were very, very loud. The different floats seemed to be competing with each other to see who could make the most noise.
Some of the floats were very heavy looking so needed a lot of people to carry them. In between carrying the floats and setting of firecrackers the participants took time to rest.
The people setting off the firecrackers were mostly well behaved, but some of them set them off closer to the spectators than they should have. The marshals sometimes gave the participants a telling off.
Some people seemed to take pride in keeping hold of the firecracker while it exploded. Probably not the safest thing to do! Others enjoyed throwing the exploding firecrackers at their fellow participants feet to make them jump up and down.
As we got nearer the harbour more and more floats appeared until there was a massive queue of floats leading to the water front.
In the past people used to be able to release the floats into the water. These days what happens is the people leave their float in what looks like a ‘float car park’. A demolition crusher then picks the float off the ground, crushes it, and dumps it into a skip. A sad end for these floats – they look like they took a long time to build.
This is a fun festival to come and watch. Beware though – it is extremely loud, and the firecrackers and the small aerial fireworks that people were setting off (especially when it gets dark) could be dangerous, so stay on your guard.
Spirit Boat Video
Above is a 6 minute video of the event, you can watch it in up to 480p.